July Live Evaluation Period Preview: Class of 2018 prospects to watch

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There is good news and bad news when it comes to college basketball recruiting in the Class of 2018.

Beginning with the bad news: there just isn’t a lot of one-and-done starpower at the top of this class — especially when compared to recent star-studded offerings in the Class of 2016 and Class of 2017.

Marvin Bagley III would compete for the No. 1 spot in any year. South Carolina native and bouncy forward Zion Williamson has already amassed a humongous social-media following within this class for his ferocious above-the-rim exploits. 7-foot-3 Bol Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, has also made a huge push up the national rankings with a ridiculous spring as his combination of interior length and perimeter skill for a big man makes him a very enticing long-term prospect..

There are elite prospects like Bagley, Williamson and Bol, but the real strength of this class comes with the amount of three- and four-year players who should really help improve the quality of college basketball over the next few seasons.

Casual basketball fans might get agitated by the lack of immediate future pros within the Class of 2018. But true fans of the college game should be excited by the amount of talent that (hopefully) stays in the college ranks for a few seasons.

The depth at point guard among the Class of 2018 is particularly promising. While there are no elite stud-level lottery picks among the floor generals at the moment, about one third of the top 35 prospects in the Class of 2018 could conceivably run some point during college.

That makes for nearly a dozen top-40 level prospects who should be able to facilitate and make things better for everyone else around them.

There are going to be a lot of names to keep an eye on over these next three weeks. Here are the 15 high-level prospects to keep tabs on and five guys outside the top 50 who could make for intriguing storylines over the next few weeks.

Marvin Bagley III (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

THE STUDS

Marvin Bagley III: The 6-foot-10 lefty has a chance to be a special talent. Bagley is incredibly gifted athletically to go along with a high degree of overall skill. A double-double machine who averaged 25.8 points and 14.9 rebounds this spring, Bagley is a major difference-maker on both ends of the floor as he’s capable of taking over a game. If Bagley improves his inconsistent perimeter shooting then he would be capable of scoring from all three levels.

Zion Williamson: The YouTube superstar has already racked up millions of views and has an early fan in Drake. It’s also a summer in which the 6-foot-6 Williamson has to re-prove himself a bit on the national stage after missing most of this spring with a minor knee injury. If Williamson is healthy and looks like a young Larry Johnson again, then he could push for No. 1.

Bol Bol: The 7-foot-3 Bol was the major story of the spring as he vaulted into the No. 1 discussion with his strong play in the Nike EYBL. Showing an ability to protect the rim while hitting perimeter shots, Bol has a tantalizing mixture of skills that any level of basketball would crave. How many players can swat 4.5 shots per game and still shoot 48 percent from three-point range (22-for-45)? It’s part of what makes Bol a special prospect. That combination of skills is the most valuable combination of skills in basketball today.

Cameron Reddish: There is no doubting the talent of the 6-foot-7 Reddish, as he’s one of the most gifted playmakers on the perimeter in this class. The major question comes with how Reddish plays the game, as his shot selection and overall intensity can waver from game to game. Inefficient in the EYBL this spring, Reddish shot the ball far better with USA Basketball during the FIBA U19 World Cup over the last few weeks as he looked like the most prepared Class of 2018 prospect who played with the group.

Romeo Langford: A native of Indiana who has been a top-five prospect most of his high school career, this will be an important summer for the 6-foot-4 shooting guard. Langford has the type of talent as a scorer where he can roll for 40 points, but he can just as easily vanish from a game and become too passive. The FIBA U19 World Cup also wasn’t kind for Langford as he battled through a back injury that caused him to miss two games. Langford’s health could be something to watch for this July.

Tre Jones: The younger brother of Tyus Jones also ranks as an elite point guard prospect. The 6-foot-2 Tre doesn’t have his older brother’s look-ahead vision or perimeter shooting ability, but he still led the EYBL in assists as he can run an offense with the best of them at the high school level. A more committed defender than Tyus, Tre has a winning mentality that helped Howard Pulley to one of the best records in the EYBL this spring.

Jordan Brown: Quietly putting together a really good spring on the adidas Gauntlet, the 6-foot-10 Brown averaged 21.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field. A capable post scorer with long arms and good mobility, Brown has a unique scoring package that relies on some unorthodox shots. If Brown can be more consistent with his intensity, then he would be even more intriguing.

Moses Brown: With the Class of 2018 lacking elite big men, Brown has come on strong over the past year to become a top-ten prospect. With elite length that enables him to protect the rim and rebound at a high level, Brown is already a standout on the defensive end, but his offensive game is also opening some eyes. Equipped with good hands and a right hook, Brown has a chance to be a major pro prospect if he can improve his offensive polish at the college level.

Simi Shittu: The MVP of the NBPA Top 100 Camp, Shittu has elevated himself into a potential blueblood recruit this July. Leading Top 100 Camp in scoring and rebounding, Shittu followed up on a very strong spring as he’s been playing at a very high level over the past few months. With the Class of 2018 lacking dominant post players, Shittu’s ability to work on the interior makes him stand out as he’s able to carve space and hit the glass hard.

Immanuel Quickley: An elite point guard prospect with a different type of game than Tre Jones, the 6-foot-3 Quickley has great size and feel for the position. Having played multiple times for USA Basketball the past few summers, Quickley is poised when a defense double teams him and he’s improved a previously-shaky perimeter jumper that is now a reliable weapon. A pick-and-roll maestro, Quickley isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s good enough to make things difficult for opposing guards as a defender.

Darius Garland: The best perimeter shooter of the elite point guards, the 6-foot-0 Garland can splash in jumpers from all over the floor thanks to a deadly pull-up game. Sometimes shot selection can be an issue with Garland — which leads to his shooting percentages fluctuating at times — but he’s also capable of going on hot streaks that can really put a game away. Also no slouch when it comes to running a team, Garland doesn’t have elite size or athleticism, which makes matchups against bigger guards something to watch for.

Louis King: Bursting on the national scene this spring, the 6-foot-8 King went from a fringe five-star prospect into a no-brainer thanks to his advanced scoring acumen. Although King is prone to taking some wild shots from all over the floor, he is also one of the most gifted playmakers from the perimeter in the class as his size and skill enables him to attack smaller wings or blow by bigger forwards.

Reggie Perry: Decommitting from Arkansas just last week, the 6-foot-8 Perry was one of the highest-rated committed prospects in 2018 before opening things up. Now that he’s back on the market, expect college coaches to flock to see the double-double threat as Perry had a very good spring playing in national and international settings. Elevating himself into a five-star prospect, Perry has a a high motor and a good degree of skill and athleticism for a college power forward.

R.J. Barrett: Although not technically a 2018 prospect, yet, there are rumors circulating that Barrett could move from 2019. After dominating the FIBA U19 World Cup and helping Canada to a gold medal, it is easy to see why the 6-foot-7 Barrett would consider college a year earlier. He led the EYBL in scoring this past spring and Barrett has the athleticism and skill on the wing to be a contender for No. 1 in this class. It’ll be fascinating to see how college coaches choose to follow Barrett during July.

Shareef O’Neal: The son of Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, the Arizona commit doesn’t play like his father, but he has a lot of intriguing upside thanks to his size and athleticism. The 6-foot-9 Shareef appears more comfortable facing up than playing with his back to the basket as he still needs to add strength and some post moves before getting to Tucson. But O’Neal also moves incredibly well for a player his size and he has a lot of room to grow his his skill level.

Bol Bol (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

FIVE PROSPECTS OUTSIDE THE TOP 50 TO KNOW

Robert Woodard: In his first spring playing in an elite shoe league, the 6-foot-5 Woodard struggled with his perimeter shot (24 percent from three) but he also showed an ability to contribute in other ways. For a perimeter player, Woodard is an elite rebounder, as he was sixth in the EYBL at 10.2 boards per contest while also making impact plays on defense. Woodard averaged 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game as his long arms and athleticism enable him to be a monster on that end of the floor. Once Woodard figures out his offensive game, he could be a major factor.

Luther Muhammad: A tenacious defender who can also score from the perimeter, the 6-foot-3 Muhammad could be an effective “three-and-d” player at the college level. Although Muhammad is prone to some wild play and bad shots, he shot 39 percent from three-point range in EYBL play while also showing a willingness to defend anyone in the league. Muhammad’s effort and intensity can be infectious at times and he’s also a solid passer who can find the open man.

Eric Ayala: The intrigue surrounding the 6-foot-3 Ayala this summer is his looming decision about which class to enter. Because Ayala graduated high school already, he has the option to enter the Class of 2017 this fall if he would like. Ayala may also decide to do a postgraduate year if he doesn’t feel like he’s ready for college in a few months. Either way, he’s a coveted four-star prospect who will draw a lot of attention from coaches the next few weeks.

Bryan Penn-Johnson: There aren’t many proven post players in the Class of 2018, which makes the late-blooming Penn-Johnson an appealing July target. The 7-footer has never played a minute of varsity basketball, but he’s become a high-major target thanks to his shot-blocking and ability to run the floor. Hoop Seen’s Justin Young believes Penn-Johnson has some similarities to former Lakers big man Andrew Bynum back when he was in high school.

Alex Lomax: One of the toughest lead guards in the class, the Memphis native will do whatever it takes to win. The 5-foot-11 Lomax has to figure out how to be more effective as a scorer for the next level, but he does everything else you’d want from a point guard on both ends of the floor. Lomax was second in the EYBL in steals per game to go along with a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (4.1-to-1.8 this spring) in helping Team Penny to another Peach Jam

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.